Alvarez's 'amazing' blast has Pirates thinking big

Three-run walkoff shot in 10th upends Rockies, 8-7, before sellout



The special athletes want the moment before they make it.

Before Pedro Alvarez slugged that sensational three-run home run in the 10th inning, before the Pirates walked off with that 8-7 triumph over the Colorado Rockies on a summery Saturday night, before a sellout crowd of 38,147 joined the home team in leaping and cheering one of the great finishes in PNC Park history, before some were expressing hope that this scene might serve as nothing less than a launching point for the franchise ...

"Finally, I think the baseball gods have looked down on us, and said, 'Enough's enough,' " manager John Russell said in a rare show of rich emotion.

Before all that, Alvarez had to stand in the on-deck circle and want the moment.

Pittsburgh has been blessed with several such athletes over the past four decades, and there are many miles to go before this precocious 23-year-old third baseman can be discussed in that category.


Today

Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (7-9, 4.59) vs. RHP Esmil Rogers (1-2, 4.85).

Key matchup: Maholm was tagged with eight runs on 5 1/3 innings July 29 in Denver, including a Carlos Gonzalez home run.

Of note: The only players in franchise history with more leadoff home runs than Andrew McCutchen's five are Barry Bonds (20), Al Martin (10) and Bob Bailey (7).

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But make no mistake: He wanted that at-bat.

The Pirates' Joel Hanrahan had given up Ian Stewart's three-run home run in the ninth to turn a three-run lead into a 5-5 tie, and Sean Gallagher allowed Todd Helton's two-run shot in the 10th that put Colorado ahead, 7-5.

But Andrew McCutchen opened the bottom half against the Rockies' closer, Huston Street, with a double off the center-field fence. After two outs, Garrett Jones fouled off three consecutive pitches to work an eight-pitch walk.

"Just looking for something to drive," Jones said. "Never got it."

"A heck of an at-bat by Garrett," Russell said.

And Alvarez, who one night earlier had hit a timely three-run home run exactly when his team needed it, who rose through the minors with a history of delivering when it counts, had plenty of time to think.

"In all honesty, when Garrett's up there having that great at-bat, I'm hoping he gets on," Alvarez said. "I wanted to go up there."

Alvarez fouled off a first-pitch sinker, then saw a changeup headed toward the outside corner but up a little.

"All I said to myself going in there was to wait for a pitch I could drive."

That must have been it, for off it sailed, hooking a few feet inside the right-field foul pole and landing seven rows above the Clemente Wall.

"Incredible," second baseman Neil Walker said.

"Amazing," starter Ross Ohlendorf said. "Just a great moment, for Pedro and for the Pirates."

The other side's view?

"Shocked," Street said. "Just shocked."

Alvarez flicked his bat, fairly floated around the basepaths, swatted third-base coach Tony Beasley on the helmet rather than the standard high-five, tossed his own helmet down the final 90 feet, then leaped into the waiting throng at home plate.

"Running around the bases ... I don't think it could have been any louder," Alvarez said, smiling. "The place would have collapsed if it were."

And his feeling?

"It's pretty unreal. I can only remember one other time in my life hitting a walk-off home run. But, obviously, here, the big leagues, a packed house ... nothing can beat that, except maybe a Game 7 in the World Series."

Best moment of his career?

"I'd have to say so, yeah. So far."

None of that, per those who know Alvarez best, should be construed as anything other than confidence. He invariably carries himself with humility and a team-first mindset, one that might have been best evident Friday night when his three-run home run went for naught in a 6-3 loss, and he could barely speak about it.

"Pedro loves to play, loves to win," Russell said. "And he wants to be on that stage. I say that in a good way. Not in a cocky way. He wants to be that guy. I think Pittsburgh fans are going to see some really special things out of this group, and Pedro's one of them."

Alvarez's line -- 3 for 6, three RBIs -- raised his average to .239, a glaring sign of the growth still ahead, but he has 10 home runs and 29 RBIs.

The finish overshadowed a flurry leading up to it ...

Ohlendorf pitched six-plus strong innings, allowing two runs -- one unearned -- and four hits, while striking out six.

"Definitely one of my best outings," Ohlendorf said.

Chris Snyder's three-run home run in the sixth, one of the highest ever hit off the left-field foul pole, gave Ohlendorf a 3-1 lead. It was Snyder's 11th overall, first since joining the Pirates.

Jones led off the seventh with his team-high 16th home run, a tall arc to center, and a bases-loaded wild pitch in the eighth handed the Pirates a 5-2 lead.

Seemed safe, too, after Evan Meek's scoreless eighth, but Hanrahan was hit hard for a second consecutive night in the ninth: A single, double and Stewart's three-run shot came in a whirlwind seven pitches. The last of those was a down-and-in fastball that Russell described as "right in Stewart's wheelhouse."

Hanrahan, used in pressure situations all season, denied being tired.

"I was looking for a ground ball," he said simply. "That wasn't a ground ball."

"Joel will be fine," Russell said.

Gallagher hung a 2-2 curve for Helton's shot before the Pirates answered.

One other sign of the special athlete, especially as it relates to the team sport, comes in the confidence instilled in those around them. And that came, as Jones recalled, with a thought he had during that long at-bat.

"That guy that's on deck, with what he's shown us already, all the big hits ... I'm not seeing anything to hit, but I'm thinking how he's the guy I want up next," Jones said. "And then, when I'm on first, I had a really good feeling about it. And sure enough ... "


Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog . First Published August 8, 2010 4:00 AM


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